TCI Friday

TCI Friday works best when you read and react. Please consider adding your voice in the comments.

Today’s discussion comes out of a segment we did on The Paceline about running tubeless tires, specifically on road bikes. Tubeless tires landed on our shores right around the same time electronic shifting did, and for cost reasons, I think a lot of riders made a choice about which technology to invest in. To go electronic, you maybe wanted a new frame that would route the wiring internally (although initially there were external options), while to go tubeless you needed new wheels and tires.

This came up because I had a flat tire incident, on my road bike, week before last. I don’t ride my road bike much, even though I really love it, and so I was excited for this ride. I had cleaned and lubed the bike, so I knew it was good to go. I just needed to add a little air before rolling out.

But as is predictable (or not), I got about 150yards from my house, which, unfortunately, puts me some way down a steep hill and I heard that old familiar pop-hiss, then my rear rim rolling over pavement. This is the one bike I own NOT set up tubeless.

Rather than tippity-tap back up the hill, I just decided to fix it right there. I pulled the wheel, peeled one tire bead, removed the flat tube. I checked the tire for glass other sharp objects. I took the cap and nut off the new tube, threaded the valve, tucked the tube into the tire, and then reseated the bead. I ran my hand around both beads to confirm neither one was impinging the tube. Then I clamp on my CO2 inflater and pulled the trigger. Pfft. A single, sad puff. I checked to see the cartridge was threaded all the way into the head. I stared at it. Befuddled. Surely, I didn’t use this cartridge and then keep it in my kit.

But of course I did.

So I tippy-tapped back up the hill. Changed my shoes, swapped bikes and went off to the ride meet up. And this, THIS is why tubeless is superior to tubed. OK. OK. It’s more work to set up. It can be gross. But the overall expenditure of time is nothing compared to the reliability and versatility of a tubeless set up.

I knew this before, but I convinced myself all over again.

This weeks TCIF asks, how are you rolling these days? Tubed or tubeless? If you have multiple bikes (I know you do), are they all one or the other, and how do you decide which way to go? Is it a function of cost? Of already having so much money sunk in good, older wheels? Where are we at?

Shimano North America, co-sponsor of this site, makes tubeless wheels. You might check them out.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    Tubeless is great for gravel but the issue me and my buddies are having is any TL bike that sits for more than a month or so needs to be serviced before it can be ridden due to dry sealant. Folks with a garage full of bikes are complaining no end about their TL bikes not being ready to ride at any moment. I’ve experienced this too and I only have 2 bikes and only one is TL.

    I’m still a skeptic of TL for road (28mm or less) or any application over 70psi, particularly hookless.

    I will say though I was riding TL gravel in the sage desert here and smiled very wide the first time a puncture sealed on its own. I am taking a 3 week self supported tour soon in eastern Oregon and Washington and taking my TL bike. I’m having to think about the various scenarios for repairing a TL tire far from all my tools and far from any bike shop.

  2. spokejunky says

    MTB and gravel/CX tubeless all day long. Love it. It mounts easily, seats great, and is more forgiving when getting slices or cuts. It’s also easy to boot when that cut is way to big for any type of plug. Road tubeless is the bane of my existence. It mounts like you trapped your fingers in a car door, takes forever to seat, sucks when you get a puncture that requires a plug or tube insertion. Any time I’m on the road it’s like that scene with Will Ferrell in Elf where he’s testing the jack-in-the-boxes. Scared and tense when the next cut will happen, but still turning the wheels.

  3. schlem says

    Out of nine wheelsets, I have three set up as tubeless: Maxxis Chronicle 29 x 3, Maxxis Assegai 29x 2.5, and WTB Venture 650b x 47. The Maxxis tires have been completely trouble-free, holding pressure as well as any tubed tire. The WTB leak down to zero in a week or so of idleness. Additionally, I set up a pair of 29 x 38 Panaracer gravelking tires and the bead would slip under firm braking! I, too, am a skeptic of the utility of narrower tubeless tires.
    A set of tubeless tires is kind of like having a pet that you have to tend. I have three of these tire pets right now, and no desire to feed more. I hate flats, and run horrid kevlar tires in the damp months to fend off the slivers of broken glass that vex me. But no flats!
    Almost as good, Rene Herse knobby style tires are very good at staying unperforated during the drier seasons. And they are so lovely to ride, even with a tube. RH slicks tend to accumulate cuts and eventual perforations.
    For context, I am about 250 lbs, and I likely use more pressure in my tires for a comfy, supple ride than most.

  4. Dan Murphy says

    Not here.

    Gravel bike with road wheels and dirt wheels, both with the same tubeless-ready rims.
    I wouldn’t even consider it for the road wheels (28mm tires).
    I have considered it for the dirt wheels (40mm tires), but honestly, I get very few flats, even riding rock and root-infested singletrack with fairly low pressure.
    I guess I don’t have a whole lot of motivation to change.

  5. trabri says

    Whatever came with tubes stay tubed. (CX,road,commuter) I love all my tubeless MTBs though. I barely think about them!

  6. alanm9 says

    Roadie only, tubes only. Intrigued by new tube technology and foam cores, and wish the industry would focus more on refining them instead of pushing silly road tubeless.

  7. Barry Johnson says

    The best solution for me on the road has been wide TLR rims, quality tubes/tires/tape and low pressure. I’ve been a habitual gloved tire wiper since 1986 and carry a full frame pump. I’ve learned to relax during flats and take it as an opportunity to calm myself and recalibrate. Hurrying just makes for a bad swap. Not interested in tubeless on the road one bit.

  8. bdicksonnv says

    TL in the mountain & gravel not on the road. I agree that some rims even when they are deemed tubeless ready are like taking a trip to the 7th level of hell to get the tires to seat.
    Funny thing is I still roll around with tubes in my Jersey/ seat bag/ frame bag/ hydration pack/ handle bar bag & with enough CO2 to outfit a group of middle age wanna be militia members on a paintball bender weekend.
    Old habits die hard.

  9. bdicksonnv says

    even when they are deemed tubeless ready are like taking a trip to the 7th level of hell to get the tires to seat.
    Funny thing is I still roll around with tubes in my Jersey/ seat bag/ frame bag/ hydration pack/ handle bar bag & with enough CO2 to outfit a group of middle age wanna be militia members on a paintball bender weekend.
    Old habits die hard.

  10. Wyatt says

    Tubeless on everything except road. The latter is only because I have a really nice sett of non tubeless road wheels and no need to swap at the moment—when the time comes I will convert on the road also. Tubeless allows for lower pressures, less rolling resistance and fewer flats over time.

  11. Bruce Pierce says

    I’ve been wrestling with TLR road for a few months. It started inauspiciously with a full blow-off coming down a hill at about 25 mph; this due to user error (~90 ps1, eek!). That end with a mile-long uphill walk of shame in road cleats. I fixed my error and dropped in down to ~70psi. Things worked we well for about a ride until I got a puncture which pretty quickly self-sealed – yay! But then I got the same puncture in the exact same spot for the next 6 rides – no joke; every ride at some point, I’d hear hisssss. I’d stop, put the hole on the bottom and wait for it to seal itself. It would every time, only to happen again next ride. I finally gave up on it self-healing and decided to put a plug in it…but when I pulled it apart, I really couldn’t find a hole to plug…so I put a tube in it and have been riding it that way for a week or two now. The front has been issue free, except for the fact that it’ll go down to 0 psi in about 3 days. I’m still working out what this all means to me. Overall, I’m not sure if TLR is worth it but maybe it’s just a learning curve thing?

  12. albanybenn says

    I am not an early adopter. As a 200 pound rider, in Upstate New York where winter is real and road repair budgets are slim, tire\tube\wheel durability is real important to me. I ride about 4,500 road miles a year, 1/3 urban commuting, the rest rural roads. My Thursday club ride, which is populated by riders of similar size, has gone down the road tubeless rabbit hole. It is amusing to watch 3-5 guys with advanced degrees try to get a tubeless tire off a rim so that a tube can be put in as a result of a snake bite or other sidewall puncture. I may be slow with my Schawlbe Marathons, but I haven”t had a road flat in 5+ years.

  13. Balky says

    The bicycle count in my house is well into double digits (not all my own bikes) and still not a single tubeless setup.

    My road bike has a particularly nice set of wheels (rim brake bike) which almost definitely aren’t tubeless compatible and I can’t think of a single reason to attempt to convert it. I mostly ride alone anyway but if the group I’m with can’t wait for a quick tube change, I’ll see them on the next ride. Maybe.

    My modern, rigid, steel MTB runs 2.8s and I just carry a slightly larger bag to accommodate the tubes for those. Bought another used XC hardtail which was setup tubeless which was swifty changed back to tubes.

    My “gravel” bike which was bought before the term was coined was the focus of much derision at the time from the staff of the LBS where it was bought who in no uncertain terms suggested it was a hybrid and should be running flat bars (lotta hybrids running around nowadays as it turns out). It’s shod with some fairly knobby 38s and there’s not a lot of types of terrain it hasn’t seen over the years. Definitely no tubeless there either.

    All my bikes have a saddle bag with a spare tube and a small hand pump. Two tubes if going somewhere remote. Also patches if going really remote.

    Draws in my garage contain patches and tubes of rubber cement which are used to repair tyre tubes while drinking beverages and listening to high quality jazz. The pile of tubes only gets large enough to worry about infrequently because I don’t get that many flats so I have to find other excuses for beverages and jazz.

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